Tackling Food Insecurity. A Case for Organic Agriculture

Essay, 2021

24 Pages, Grade: A2




Organic Sources of Nutrients

Relationship between Food Security and Organic Source of Nutrients



According to a Food and Agriculture organization (FAO) 2017 report on the future of food; the world today is increasingly confronted by multidimensional challenges from drought, food shortages, diseases, and global climate changes to an ever-increasing global population. As they are associated with one another, it is seen that to address some of these challenges, the issue of food security has to be tackled. To this effect, the agriculture industry thus faces an enormous task of increasing food production in an equitable and sustainable manner (Foley et al., 2011; Stewart and Robert, 2012; Dinpnah, 2014; FAO, 2014; FAO, 2015; Ponisio et al., 2015; Sarma, 2015).

There is a need to employ approaches that will enhance the resilience of agriculture production systems and contribute to mitigation of the current food insecurity through promoting biodiversity over mono-cropping, increasing soil organic matter and de-linking food production from fossil fuel reliance (De Schutter, 2010; Sarma, 2015; Bardgett and Gibson, 2017). In view of this, a balanced and precise crop nutrient application particularly of organic source has been suggested to be a prerequisite tool for meeting the second United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) to end hunger, achieve food security, improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture (International Fertilizer Association (IFA), World Farmers’ Organisation (WFO) and Global alliance for climate-smart agriculture (GACSA), 2016).

According to a 2015 joint report by FAO, International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD) and WFP; one in nine people remain hungry in the world today. In fact, reports in various literature have shown that most developing countries notably sub-Saharan Africa constitute the “largest portion of world’s chronically hungry people” (FAO, 2009; Holt-Gimenez et al., 2012; Ponisio et al., 2015; Sarma, 2015). Consequently, improved food production is being considered an integral solution in addressing hunger and resulting economic vulnerability.

In terms of agricultural capability and meeting demand for food; studies have pointed out that conventional agricultural practices such as the chemically-intensive, mono-cropping agriculture (amidst other current policies) may not even be sustainable and viable option for most farmers in the developing countries (Holt-Gimenez et al., 2012); such argument of course relates to the small nature of the farmers’ landholdings. This is among the myriad of reasons why there is growing interest for cost-economic, agro-ecological and organic forms of agriculture (De Schutter, 2010; Altieri et al., 2012; IFAD, 2005; IFAD, 2003; FAO, 2017).

According to a report by International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), organic agriculture as a production system relies on “ecological processes, biodiversity, and cycles that are well-adapted to local conditions, rather than inputs with adverse effects.” (IFOAM, 2006; Dinpnah, 2014; Sarma, 2015). It supports refraining from the use of synthetic or chemical based inputs to agricultural systems.

More importantly, organic agriculture views the farm somewhat as a living entity where all the components (soil minerals, organic matter, microorganisms, insects, plants, animals, and humans) interact with one another creating a self-regulating and stable system (IFOAM, 2006; Dinpnah, 2014; Sarma, 2015). Furthermore, it relies on natural regulating processes, local resources, and ecosystem capacities to optimize ecosystem functions, improve yields as well as disease resistance. This is in contrast to industrial agriculture, which relies heavily on non-renewable resources and prompts disruption of natural cycles drawing farmers into a vicious cycle of input use (to address pest/disease outbreaks and nutrient management (Sarma, 2015).

Food is a basic need for survival; therefore, one cannot overstress the importance of maintain food security throughout the year. Some experts opine that a state of food security is attained when “all the general population at all times have both physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs for an active and healthy life.” Food insecurity therefore exists when people lack access to sufficient amounts of safe and nutritious food, and therefore is not consuming enough for an active and healthy life. Researchers have attributed food insecurity to the ‘…unavailability of food, inadequate purchasing power, or inappropriate utilization at the household level’ (Stewart and Robert, 2012; FAO, 2010a; Dinpnah, 2014; Morshedi et al., 2017).

As discussed earlier, there are increasing statistics; the world population is expected to increase at exponential rates (Morshedi et al., 2017). With this projection comes mounting concerns over an already higher than acceptable level of food insecurity (Stewart and Robert, 2012; Morshedi et al., 2017).

Consequently, in a bid to promote food security (with respect to optimal application of nutrients); a number of studies have recommended four principles namely; right nutrient source applied at the right rate, right time, and right place. These four dimensional approach have been proven to ensure appropriate use of nutrient resources and optimized productivity (FAO, 2010c; IFA, 2010; Stewart and Robert, 2012; FAO, 2014; Morshedi et al., 2017).

Organic Sources of Nutrients

A large number of diverse materials can serve as sources of plant nutrients. Plants absorb nutrients from all sources however they take up nutrients only in their inorganic form. Organic nutrient sources must be mineralized (converted from an organic to an inorganic form) before being taken up by plants. The amount of nutrients provided by the different sources varies greatly between and within agro-ecosystems. Experts from organisations such as IFA, WFO, GACSA have stressed that sustainable crop nutrition can be achieved by identifying and utilizing all available sources of plant nutrients (IFA-WFO-GACSA, 2016). These can be natural, synthetic, recycled wastes or a range of biological products including microbial inoculants.

Accordingly, a certain natural supply of mineral and organic nutrient sources is present in soils; however, these often have to be supplemented with materials from exogenous sources for better plant yield. In practical farming, a vast variety of sources do indeed have agro-economic importance in spite of large differences in their nature, nutrient contents, forms, physicochemical properties and rate of nutrient release (Stewart and Robert, 2012; FAO, 2017).

Nutrient sources are generally classified as organic, mineral or biological. For the scope of this essay; organic source of plant nutrients was treated.

Organic nutrient sources are often described as manures, bulky organic manures or organic fertilizers. Most organic nutrient sources, have widely varying composition. For some, such as cereal straw; they release nutrients only slowly (owing to a wide carbon: nitrogen ratio). Nitrogen-rich leguminous green manures or oilcakes on the other hand decompose rapidly and release nutrients quickly (IFA-WFO-GACSA, 2016; FAO, 2017).

Briefly, according to the joint IFA, WFO, GACSA report; organic sources of nutrients are derived principally from substances of plant and animal origin (IFA-WFO-GACSA, 2016). Partially humified (derived from humus) and mineralized under the action of soil microflora, the organic sources act primarily on the physical and biophysical components of soil fertility. There include manures made from cattle dung, excreta of other animals, other animal wastes, rural and urban wastes, composts, crop residues and even green manures. Bulky organic manure is a term that encapsulates materials such as cattle dung, farm yard manure, composts, etc. because of their large bulk in relation to the nutrients contained in them.

Essentially, as a pre-condition for growth, health and the production of nutritious food, plants require essential nutrients (macro and micronutrients) in sufficient (Reetz, 2016) namely: carbon (C), hydrogen (H), oxygen (O), nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potassium (K), sulphur (S), magnesium (Mg), calcium (Ca), iron (Fe), manganese (Mn), zinc (Zn), copper (Cu), boron (B), molybdenum (Mo), chlorine (Cl), nickel (Ni), sodium (Na) and cobalt (Co). Therefore, if a single essential plant nutrient is available in insufficient quantity, it affects plant growth and invariably the yield.

Experts agree with Liebig’s law of minimum that the level of plant growth is limited by the nutrient that is present in the environment in the least concentration relative to its demands for growth (Reetz, 2016). Certain essential nutrients such as (not limited to) N, P and K are generally assumed to be the most widely deficient elements.

Meanwhile, it is important to note at this juncture that in addition to organic sources, nutrients can be sources from rock weathering, atmospheric deposition, added irrigation water, crop residues, compost, livestock manure, bio-solids, and manufactured fertilizers (FAO, 2015; Reetz, 2016).

Relationship between Food Security and Organic Source of Nutrients

As emphasized earlier, food insecurity and an ever-expanding world population are a few instances of the challenges of the 21st century world. On one hand, providing food for the growing population requires a tremendous increase in the level of agricultural production (Dinpnah, 2014). On the other hand, given the importance of food security and the irreparable damage due to excessive use of agricultural chemicals, increased attention is currently focusing on safer, viable, cost-effective organic alternative (Morshedi et al., 2017).

Organic farming is based on minimizing the use of external inputs, fertilizers, insecticides, and pesticides (FAO, 2015; WHO, 2015).

Accordingly, the evaluation of the benefits and limitations of organic agriculture appear to be complex given that its impacts depend on various factors such as the state of soil condition, farmer’s knowledge and skills as well as resources availability (IFAD, 2015; Sarma, 2015).

Various scholarly works have cited the role of organic agriculture to developing countries to its economic, environmental, and social benefits (Mondelaers et al., 2009; Peramaiyan et al., 2011; Ward, 2013; Seufert, 2012; Bahramian and Mirdamadi, 2011; Omidi, 2014; Sarma, 2015

With respect to the environmental benefits ; Organic agriculture provides greater environmental benefits per unit area than input-intensive industrial/ conventional systems on a variety of indicators including increased soil organic matter as well as soil organic carbon concentration and stocks, (Gattinger et al., 2012) improved agronomic, natural, and soil biodiversity; reduced nitrogen and phosphorous leaching and greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions (Seufert, 2012; Mondelaers et al., 2009; Tuomisto et al., 2012; Morshedi et al., 2017). There is also evidence that organic systems can contribute to soil carbon sequestration (Rodale institute, 2014) and higher sequestration rates compared to conventional systems. A meta-analysis in the context of developing countries has highlighted increased yield in organic production systems (Badgely et al., 2007; Gibbon and Bolwig, 2007; Morshedi et al., 2017).

Furthermore, Organic farming leads to healthier soils with reduced soil erosion (Morshedi et al., 2017) through enhancement of soil organic matter. It has been shown to be instrumental to maintaining soil fertility (nutrients and soil diversity) and soil functions (better water retention, nutrient uptake, buffering and filtering capacities), providing ecosystem services like crop protection (IFOAM, 2006; Mondelaers et al., 2009; Platteau, 2005; Pimentel et al., 2005). Soil organic matter and quality have been associated with organic production techniques demonstrating higher or similar yields to conventional systems (Herencia et al., 2008; Melero et al., 2006).

Organic systems have shown to significantly improve species richness (Bengtsson, 2005; Hole, 2005; Morshedi et al., 2017). This feature not only enables greater conservation of genetic diversity and protection from disease and pests, but also over the time improves resilience in the system (IFOAM, 2006).

Studies on organic agriculture also show increased soil water content, water retention, and volume of water percolation indicating improved ground water recharge and reduced runoff when compared to conventional systems (Pimentel et al., 2005; Morshedi et al., 2017).

In terms of energy requirement, organic farming requires lower energy input compared to the conventional systems and also high energy efficiency (Tuomisto et al., 2012). Studies have also indicated a 6–30 % reduction in the global warming potential per kilo of product for organic products peaking at 41% (ITC-FiBL, 2007; Morshedi et al., 2017).

During extreme weather conditions like drought, Organic systems have been demonstrated to perform better than conventional systems (Lotter, 2003; Gomiero, 2008; FAO, 2017). This is especially important in developing countries.

Economically , a number of factors such as yields, prices, and production costs (including cost for inputs, labour and certification) have been termed as important indices to measure productivity in organic agriculture costs (IFOAM, 2006; Seufert, 2012; FAO, 2017). First; yields can be influenced by variables such as production system characteristics, organic nutrient management, farmer’s level of knowledge among others (Forster et al., 2013; Sarma, 2015; Morshedi et al., 2017).

Compared to traditional farming systems; organic farming practices demonstrate improved crop productivity and yield up to 170% (Badgley et al., 2007). This has been documented in such systems in Africa, China, India, and Latin America (IFAD, 2005; Gibbon and Bolwig, 2007; Ponisio et al., 2015; Morshedi et al., 2017).

Researchers found for instance; that in addition to the use of leguminous crops, microbial nutrient fixers among others; manure and composts also possess a huge potential in improving yield performance (Rupela et al., 2006; Chappell, 2007; Venkateswarlu, 2008; Seufert, 2012).

Long-term farm trial comparisons between organic and conventional systems in places like the United States (US) indicate that yields in organic and conventional systems can be matched in cases of crops like corn, soya bean, wheat (Pimentel, 2005; Rodale Institute, 2011). More significantly, organic farms achieve higher yields in comparison to conventional farms in drought conditions (Rodale Institute, 2014) out-yielding conventional crops by even 70–90% in severe conditions (Gomiero et al., 2008; Sarma, 2015).

According to the IFOAM report (2006); ‘productivity assessments’ (or production system characteristics) should be based on total farm productivity rather than single crop yield estimates. Organic production systems have been shown to maximize productivity of the farm due to its capability for growing multiple crops compared to conventional methods driven by single crop farming (Seufert et al., 2012; Serma, 2015; Ponisio et al., 2015; Morshedi et al., 2017).

Meanwhile, as highlighted above, the ability of organic nutrient management practices to adequately replenish soil nutrients, removed by crop harvests remains a contentious issue in farming systems (International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), 2002). However, considering other variables of organic nutrient management; when compared to conventional systems; organic agriculture have been shown to result in better pest and disease control mechanisms (

FAO, 2017 argueed entht imum. dnded security has to be tackled. enges nts can be sources from rock weathering, atmospheric dePonisio et al., 2015). Additionally, soils in organic farms managed (with farm yard manure for instance) for long periods have been demonstrated to show higher content of organic matter and nutrients such as nitrogen that improves soil fertility (IFOAM, 2006; Pimentel, 2005; Sarma, 2015).

In terms of production costs; researchers found the organic agricultural systems to have significantly reduced the overall production costs in comparison to conventional production system (Eyhorn et al., 2007; Valkila 2009; Panneerselvam et al., 2011; Seufert, 2012; Sarma, 2015).

On its potential for social impact; organic agriculture is able to promote food security in various ways. For instance; for the farmers operating in traditional, small-scale or low-input systems, it improves farm yields and incomes. It leads to enhancement in food availability because of the possibility of diversification and mixed farming. There is also the case for lowering chances of crop failure in case of extreme climate events.

Resource-poor farmers especially in developing countries can also avoid taking high interest loans as organic production systems rely on locally available inputs rather than synthetic agricultural inputs which amongst other things increases production costs (IFAD, 2005; Sarma, 2015; Morshedi et al., 2017).

More so, organic agriculture can lead to diminished pesticide exposure amongst farmers and agricultural workers. Accordingly, some scholars have argued that when organic sources of nutrients (in combination with other organic agricultural practices) are employed; the challenge of crops containing pesticide residues and the emergence of antibiotic resistance bacteria will have been addressed (Smith-Spangler et al., 2012; Morshedi et al., 2017). This is an existing challenge in conventional farming that used synthetic chemicals in eliminating pests. Meanwhile, food from organic farming system have been reported to arguably contain higher levels of antioxidants and lower concentrations of toxic metal such as cadmium (Baranski et al., 2014; Dangour et al., 2009).

Furthermore, it is important also to highlight that this social impact of using organic sources of nutrients (within the framework of the organic agricultural system) extends to its ability to reinforce community relationships among farmers and other critical stakeholders such as non-governmental organisations within agricultural sector, and extension workers. There is also a case for better farmer-consumer relations in the local communities. More so, it provides innovative solutions on affordability as farmers from developing countries who generally find it difficult to access credit to purchase conventional inputs can now seek alternative options in organic modes of production (Tovignan and Nuppenau, 2004; Goldberger, 2008; Mendez et al., 2010 Thapa and Morshedi et al., 2017).

In conclusion, from various sources (as reviewed in this discourse); organic farming revered for benefits since time immemorial have been recommended to lead the direction of agriculture for the future. Its affordability, accessibility amongst other benefits makes it particularly an interesting option for both developing and developing economies in the fight against food insecurity in today’s world. As global population peaks; as we discuss the issue of climate change in conjunction wars and insurgency which are amongst the leading world challenges; there is the need to give emergency attention to trends in food insecurity. This is therefore, a call for stakeholders to conduct more research and innovativeness for the purpose of achieving the United Nations SDGs of zero hunger and mitigating global food insecurity.


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Tackling Food Insecurity. A Case for Organic Agriculture
Obafemi Awolowo University
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organic agriculture, agriculture, farming, manure, food insecurity, sustainable development goals, zero hunger
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Akinmayowa Adedoyin Shobo (Author), 2021, Tackling Food Insecurity. A Case for Organic Agriculture, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/995975


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